Stephen Crittenden: Let’s talk about some of the specific arguments in The God Delusion, that you’ve been refuting. The key idea is Dawkins’ view that the natural sciences lead to atheism, that they make belief in God impossible. You say science leads not to atheism but to agnosticism.
Alister E. McGrath: That’s right. If it leads anywhere; and the point I try to make is actually the natural sciences can be interpreted in an atheist way and certainly Dawkins gives that perspective. But of course there are many, many scientists who are Christians, people like Owen Gingerich, who’s Professor of Astronomy at Harvard, or Francis Collins, who directs the Human Genome Project. And my real concern is that Dawkins seems to be wanting to say that if you’re a real scientist, you cannot be a religious believer for that reason. That there is this fundamental tension between science and faith. And I want to say that the history of the thing just doesn’t back him up on this point.
Stephen Crittenden: Indeed, is that one of the biggest weaknesses in Dawkins’ book, that he doesn’t acknowledge the role of the churches and religious believers in the history of science: the Jesuits in astronomy and seismology, and medicine, for instance; or the fact that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a Belgian priest. And of course the general public doesn’t know all that much about this history either.
Alister E. McGrath: Well that’s right. I mean Dawkins has this very simplistic idea that science and religion have always been at war with each other, and he says only one can win, and let’s face it, it’s going to be science. But the history just doesn’t take into that place. The history suggests that at times there has been conflict, but at times there has been great synergy between science and religion and many would say that at this moment, there are some very exciting things happening in the dialogue between science and religion. What Dawkins is offering is a very simplistic, slick spin on a very complex phenomenon. It’s one that clearly he expects to appeal to his readers, but the reality is simply not like that at all.